published: 13 /
The hordes started queuing up hours ago. Teenage girls are clustering around the tourbuses and every entrance and exit. After all, tonight’s entertainment is the band whose aftershow buffet includes c
The hordes started queuing up hours ago. Teenage girls are clustering around the tourbuses and every entrance and exit. After all, tonight’s entertainment is the band whose aftershow buffet includes canapés and KY Jelly. The rumours are everywhere “A comb-over?? Is he bald??” Yes, Placebo have a lot to worry about. But in their support act’s dressing room it’s a different story. It’s there that we find Chris Olley, guerrilla frontman of Nottingham’s Six By Seven, on the verge of killing his sound engineer while in the background a stereo blaring out The Supremes eats up the awkward silences.
Although it grates a little that with a carnivorous second album on the shelves and an escalating reputation for shredding electric live shows, Six By Seven are still consigned to support act limbo. In a further twist of fate, guitarist Sam Hempton, the baby-faced static-breathing spawn of Jonny Greenwood and Godzilla, recently left the band to pursue ‘outside interests’. But with ex-Spiritualized man Tony Doggen now on board, Olley remains quietly confident.
“The change in line up of a band will always change the chemistry. That’s obvious. It’s got to. But, y’know, you can get a new chemistry that’s better. And I think that’s what we’ve got.”
Despite critical adoration, the Six By Seven trajectory has remained depressingly shallow. ‘The Things We Make’ debut album secured the five-piece a loyal fanbase , but a lack of radio-friendly singles from its follow up ‘The Closer You Get’ has done little to encourage outside interest. Perplexingly their latest release, ‘Eat Junk Become Junk’, will only be available as a ltd ed 12” with stripped-down remixes from Two Lone Swordsmen and Zan Lyons.
Isn’t giving your song away to be remixed a bit like giving a baby up for adoption? You must be quite precious about something that you’ve worked on for so long.
“No! No! Not at all. Not at all.” Chris, now having reached a tense understanding with the exasperated sound man, leans his impressive if intimidating frame forward. “I think that giving your song away to somebody to deconstruct and to rebuild is, er, I think that guy [Andy Weatherall] he’s done an interesting, er, version of that song. I’m amazed with the way that he’s changed it.”
Has electronic music been much of an influence on what you do?
“Yeah, right from the beginning.”
Yeah, you can sense it. Because for a band who work within the guitar template, you don’t play guitars like other bands. Six By Seven are the only band I’ve heard that make guitars sound like weapons.
“When we first started the band we decided that there would be no guitar solos in the band whatsoever. So what we had to do was find a different way of achieving the same thing. We’re not that precious about the band. We can move on and do different things. Y’know, we’re just making music.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that is one band refusing to tow the party line administered by the Indie Rock governing body (Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn, Pulp) that Guitar Music Is Dead. Seeing as we’re still pulling casualties and the odd severed fringe from the wreckage of Britpop’s crash and burn, is there ever a worry that by opting to work within such an atavistic framework you risk limiting yourselves and potential future sounds?
“Well it wasn’t much of a limitation to the Velvet Underground was it? Or The Beatles. Or AC/DC.”
Except of course the first two imploded under the frustration of not being able to advance sonically and left us instead with the messy legacy of ‘Metal Machine Music’ and The Plastic Ono Band. And as for the latter, a career of playing the same three chords in the same order to the same people for the rest of their natural lives has only proved that longevity and ample bloody-mindedness bear stagnant fruit. But if there’s one thing that rock corpses like the DC and Motorhead have – and Six By Seven know this and they’ve certainly learnt the moves – it’s the knowledge that some bloke standing behind a record player is never going to wear the heroism that these bands carry like loose change. The guitar thing isn’t going to go away, because as much as we long for cerebral forward-thinking music, we also want our heroes. We want something to believe in. We want noise.
Maybe it’s a disappointment then that they relegate their own status to that of ‘musician’. That high drama like Muse will claim they want to “blow up the world!” but for Six By Seven their only motivation behind starting a band and their future goals and ambitions are, as Olley puts it…
“Both the same really. Just making good music and I think that’s what we’re doing. Didn’t want to conquer the world or… I don’t know. What do bands wanna achieve? Why do people form bands and get into bands?”
Which makes you wonder how self-aware, self-conscious whatever, you have to be to be able to do something like this. Olley’s unflinching lyrical portraits, sometimes beautiful, sometimes as desperate and passionate as the last few seconds before an impending car crash, offer a vivid analysis of a fiercely intelligent but often troubled intellect. Breakthrough single ‘For You’ is a gasping swooning affirmation of life, and Chris later admitted was inspired by a failed suicide attempt. The entire ‘The Closer You Get’ album reads like a bloody but unbowed triumph over the self, like it’s compressing failure and success and Jose Cuervero’s cure for heartache into ammunition for the soul.
Do you ever worry about over-exposing yourself in lyrics or is all just part of the job?
“No, I don’t have a problem with it. I just write what I feel like writing.”
Where do you get the inspiration for the songs?
“That’s my secret. Writing lyrics is the hardest thing in the world. For every single line that you use you have to write about a hundred. And then decide its crap sixth months later. But then you have to go and tour it for ages, when it’s too late. The inspiration, where does it come from? It just comes from everything around you. I’m not the sort of person that sits there and reads endless amounts of books. And sits there and quotes books.”
“I’ve written loads of poetry. Loads of real crap poems. But I mean, I’ve done some funny stuff, some good stuff as well. Erm, I’ve always wanted to do a book of poetry because I’m a big fan of Roger McGough and all those kind of beat poets. And I’m also into stand-up comedy and stuff like that. I was a big fan of Morrissey. I loved the humour in his lyrics. People used to say “Urgh! It’s all doom and gloom and dark’ and I just thought those lyrics were really funny.
What about a song like ‘Ten Places To Die, which is this sequence of very morbid images. The first single from the album and the lyrics are nothing more than a list of violent imagined deaths involving everything from plane crashes to, er, apple trees.
By now he’s almost incredulous. “What’s morbid about dying picking an apple from a tree??”
“An apple tree’s only about [indicates height of about 4 feet] that high. But just picking an apple, or climbing into a tree to get some plums out or something and slipping and falling out and dying…”
Chris starts gagging as he struggles to control a scary laugh from erupting under the measured Rollins intensity.
“Like Rod Hull!”
By now he’s rolling around on the floor.
“Falling into his conservatory! I mean, I find those things funny. I don’t think they’re morbid, I just think they’re funny. I mean, if it happened to me I probably wouldn’t find it that funny. People go to work and they guffaw at The Sun, the fact that, like, someone’s fallen out of a tree and bumped their head and got killed. But, er, obviously for all the families and everyone!”
He’s off again. Please readers, take this band’s sincerity with a spoonful of strychnine.
“Involved, it’s deeply, er… [cracks up] ‘morbid!’ I kind of like that. I think ‘Ten Places To Die’ is one of the funniest songs we’ve ever written.” He concludes, with an appropriately evil chuckle.
Okay, ‘Eat Junk Become Junk’. Guitars wrapped in cheesewire, bass booming out mortars. Distortion. Screaming. The last battle cry, the big push out the trenches and into the face of corporate chintz. This isn’t pop music, this is war!
“It’s not only about pop music, it’s about everything. About the whole Americanisation of this country and it’s more and more this shopping mall junk food culture. And it’s picking up the bad, the bad things from America. Because they’re so commercial and they can be viable and a good way of making money that’s the reason that they’re picked up and used. That’s the reason why we put a big service station that looks like a shopping mall in Toddington or whatever. And when you go in there you just walk around like a monkey and there’s nothing… I mean, I walk into them service stations and we’re just confronted with the same shit. Every fucking day. Twice a day. And it becomes really, really tedious.”
Do you really worry about that stuff a lot? Most people just accept it as the backdrop to their day to day lives.
“Yeah! Well, I accept it as being part of life and I visit those service stations all the time, y’know. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t shout about it. Cos it pisses me off.” Bang on cue a crew member wanders in clutching a paper bag bearing the infamous golden arches. “Here we go! HE WANTS TO GO OUT AND GET HIMSELF SOMETHING TO EAT AND WHAT DOES HE COME BACK WITH??” “Fucking McDonalds! It’s all that’s open!” Rubbing his hands. “I haven’t been to McDonalds in years!”
“We have catering,” groans Olley, back up so far it’s now projecting Nosferatu shadows on the far wall. “We can walk over there, have a slice of Marmite and toast. Some fresh bread and some vegetables, you know. That’s what human beings need. Well you make up your own mind about that and what you’re going to do about it ?”
It just goes to prove if it looks like crap,and tastes like crap, it doesn’t matter as long as you can’t get to anything else. And while Travis are on the radio, tv, busking on your doorstep every five minutes, there’s just no room for the healthy-eating alternative. The subject matter may be a little more incisive than ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’, it may even on occasion be a little bleak, but that just means it’s more human.
Sometimes you have to screw up completely just to make sure that you’re really alive and as far as the 9ft frontman in white shirt and ‘lucky tie’ is concerned, there’s just no point in singing a song or writing a lyric unless hearts are rent in the process. Usually your own. Songs that have been made out of broken bottles, weekends spun out into something wild that is by turns love affair and dark night of the soul. Kiss them once and they’ll hate you forever.
If you’re in love then you’re fair game.